Garage Rock

Tips on building a home gym for late-night bouldering—just don't step on the rake

Oct 1, 2000
Outside Magazine

OK, IT's 8:30 on a Sunday evening, the climbing gym is closed, and for the last 45 minutes while you've pretended to listen to your spouse sermonize on your failure to open yourself to a deeper level of emotional communication, you've been secretly visualizing a crux move that's repeatedly spanked you. Obviously, you've got a serious problem. There's only one solution: It's time to break out the power tools and convert your garage into a home rock wall.

Needless to say, the disharmony this creates with said spouse may swiftly extend to include your landlord, who, obviously, will raise all sorts of misguided financial and aesthetic objections to a project like this. Ignore them. (C'mon, who ever gets their security deposit back anyhow?) Instead, focus on the rich climbing dividends that will soon begin flowing from your miniature gym: the ability to customize boulder problems, endlessly tweak moves, and log more wall-time than ever. Here's a rundown of the basic building blocks you'll need, some pointers you'll want to keep in mind, and a few resources that will get you on your way to becoming an around-the-clock rock jock.

DESIGN: Let's assume that the wall you have to work with is no shorter than nine feet and no wider than than 14. Within these 126 square feet, your mission is to create the tallest, broadest sheet of unbroken, overhanging climbing surface you can. The key here is not the severity of the angle—so long as it's overhanging—but the variety and quantity of the holds you place within this space. Even a barely overhanging wall can provide endless challenges if you decorate it with sloping holds and tiny foot jibs.

T-NUTS: Drill 7/16-inch holes through your wall, placing these washer-shaped nuts on the backside as anchors for your holds. The more T-nuts you insert—try to place at least three or four per square foot—the easier it will be to rearrange your holds into fresh and ever more devilish configurations.

HOLDS: Place your large holds evenly over the entire surface so that you can utilize the entire wall for warm-ups. Position underclings—holds you use palm-up—down low for challenging sit-start problems, and attach plenty of buckets—big, grabby holds—at the tops so your routes have a variety of finishing positions to choose from. To avoid smashing your elbows and forearms, reserve your shallow in-cut holds for the middle of the wall.

JIBS: These tiny footholds (most of which have a profile of half an inch or less) are some of the most important features of your home climbing wall. When arranged in fairly dense clusters—two or three per square foot—from the base to the top, jibs can help improve your footwork and, more important, your core tension—the use of your stomach, back, and leg muscles to keep your hips close to the wall. Note: Be sure to use jibs that take two wood screws; those requiring only a single screw have an annoying tendency to loosen and spin.

HAND JIBS: Add screw-in handholds—sometimes called hand jibs—to areas where T-nuts cannot be used, such as against the timber framing that backs your wall, at the edges of the panels, or even on the framing itself around the sides of the structure.

ROTATION: Buy more holds than you can attach to the wall at any one time. Making up your own problems—sequences of movements between designated holds—is the best way to keep motivated. But beware: Climbing only your own problems can be self-indulgent; you tend to concentrate on what you do best, not worst. Have your friends devise a few sequences of their own for you.


Resources Solid advice on where to place "the eyesore," rating a garage as best and interior rooms as among the worst. A homegrown site with innovative tips on how to cut costs by making your own plastic holds, plus good advice on getting the most climbing out of a small space. A spot-on site with terrific info on setting up overhanging walls, as well as schematics of sample walls. Exchange ideas with other home climbing-wall builders, and learn how to shape your own holds.

Also recommended: Home Climbing Gyms, by Randy Leavitt ($10, Climbing Magazine, 1998) and the relatively slim Building Your Own Climbing Wall, by Ramsay Thomas ($6, Chockstone Press, 1995).

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